Chow Town

Newer producers in the Paso Robles wine country in California offer stunning wines

Paso Robles wine region in California’s central coast
Paso Robles wine region in California’s central coast

When last I left the Paso Robles American Viticultural Appellation, I was singing the praises of Paso and a few of my favorite producers whose wines I’ve enjoyed over many years.

Today, I return to the Paso Robles AVA with an eye toward the new — at least new to me. It came as no surprise that the wine choices were plentiful and the wines often stunning.

Each time I visit the region or buy a new bottle of wine from Paso, I am more and more impressed with the overall quality. More than that, as I pointed out in my last article, the depth and diversity of Paso’s wine offerings is stellar.

The Paso AVA is home to more than 200 wineries with 32,000 acres under vine. The region features many distinct microclimates, diverse soils, and the perfect combination — for grape growing and winemaking — of warm days and cool nights. This confluence of factors allows winemakers and grape growers a myriad of options.

Paso produces some 40 wine varieties: Spanish, Italian, French — both from Bordeaux and The Rhone Valley — and plenty of that quintessential California grape, Zinfandel. Wines lovers will find wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, Tempranillo and so much more. What I found this time out were a number of newer producers whose wines were to my palette dynamic, diverse and delicious.

In no particular order, let me start with the appropriately named The Farm Winery, whose story is not a particularly new one having started a quarter century ago as a friendship and collaboration between two families, one Californian and one Argentinian.

I love the wines from The Farm Winery, but I also admire its approach. The Farm Winery is an entirely family-run, hands-on operation. The winery only makes about 800-cases of wine per vintage, averaging just one and a half tons of fruit per acre, which makes for super-intense, quite complex, beautifully balanced wines.

The wines are split among four labels: Cardinal, LPF, The Big Game and Touchy-Feely. I said I liked the wines, not necessarily the names, but still, these are wines worth seeking out. I particularly enjoy the Grenache-based Touchy-Feely offering, which comes from one of the highest elevation Grenache vineyards and has received the highest scores of any Grenache bottling from the Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine in the last decade. The Farm Winery is a Westside winery operation, closer to the Pacific and, therefore in Paso’s cooler climes.

Another Westside winery and new discovery for me is Michael Gill Cellars. Named after founder and winemaker, Michael Gill, this coastal estate produces some of the most eclectic and sumptuous wines in the Paso Robles AVA.

By eclectic, I mean interesting and unique grape varieties. How about Vermintino, a white grape native to Italy, or Counoise, one of the 13 grape varieties approved for production in France’s Southern Rhone Valley.

“We let the grapes talk to us,” Gill said. “We do what the vines tell us to do to make them perform the best. We’re not trying to mass produce everything, get on a treadmill, and be married to budget and expectations. If one grape takes extra care, it gets extra care. We make the time.”

I’d say Gill’s winemaking philosophy is in full view with the Counoise. Less than 100 cases of Counoise are produced annually at Michael Gill. The bottle I tried was absolutely enchanting — dark, ripe, and lush — a wine Gill describes as “frivolous with the legs of a ballerina dancing on a rose petal.” I can’t compete with that, but it sure was yummy.

Two final new discovery standouts for me were Vino Robles and Zenaida Cellars. Vino Robles, founded by Swiss native Hans Nef represents “a stylistic bridge between the Old and New Worlds, capturing the finesse of the Old World with the bold flavors of the New.”

I’ll buy that, and in fact, have bought that. I like several of the Vino Robles wines, but found their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon particularly alluring, medium-bodied with dark red fruit aromas and flavors, a bit of earthiness and tobacco, and a lovely, balanced finish.

Last but not least, Zenaida Cellars, where winemaker and owner, Erick Ogorsolka, started planting his vineyards in the hills of west Paso Robles after college. Zenaida Cellars wines are fuller-bodied and more New World-styled than the other wines in this article, to my palette anyway. But they are well-balanced with tons of fruit and plenty of refreshing acidity.

Try the Grenache Blanc with its aromas and flavors of lemon zest, blood orange, and pineapple. Zenaida Cellars only produces about 150 acres of the Grenache Blanc, though, so don’t dawdle. Then again, you’ve got plenty of choices at Zenaida Cellars, and anywhere you go in Paso Robles.

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.